Education Options After High School and College

Think About College Now

After High School

Applying to Colleges: A Timetable

Alternatives to a Four-Year College

After College


After High School

Three basic educational options are available after high school:

A certificate program in a vocational field usually requires 12 to 18 months to complete.

An associate degree program, Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.), usually requires two years for completion.

A bachelor's degree program such as Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Bachelor of Science (B.S.), or Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) usually takes four years.

Option 1: Certificate programs

For students choosing the first option, follow-up courses are available for later enrichment. Certificate programs do not have set requirements, but many expect high school graduation or a GED certificate, obtained by passing a high school equivalency test. Some vocational schools (e.g., TVI in Albuquerque) require basic skills tests. Financial aid, frequently based on need, is available in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study programs.

Option 2: Associate degree

With the second option, transfer to a four-year program is possible with much of the first two years' work counting. Associate degree programs generally require high school graduation or the GED certificate. Some, such as the New Mexico Military Institute, require a specific number of college preparatory courses.

Option 3: Bachelor's degree

Bachelor's degree programs require graduation or the GED certificate. A few colleges, including St. John's College, accept students under special circumstances who are just finishing their junior year. Required preparatory courses vary, but most colleges require fifteen to eighteen high school units (one unit for a full-year course): usually three units in English, two to four in mathematics, two in science, two in social science. Out-of-state schools often require two units in a foreign language; New Mexico schools do not. New Mexico schools generally require the ACT, an aptitude placement test administered by the American College Testing Service; out-of-state schools usually require the SAT, the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In addition, some schools require achievement tests in specialized subjects. Graduate programs are available for students choosing third option.

Where to Get Your Education

Your future career can be strongly affected by where you choose to get your education. Follow the decision-making model described in a separate chapter of this book (Selecting an Occupation) in selecting a school. Determine your objectives based on the career path you hope to follow, and determine what school can best meet these objectives. Consider all kinds of post-secondary school education: technical-vocational schools, two-year community colleges, four-year liberal arts colleges, universities, and service academies.

To make your educational experience a positive step toward your future, compare information from different sources: parents, teachers, guidance counselors, alumni, friends, school catalogs (see a local public or college library), school career resource centers, and college entrance guides. A yearly publication entitled "Consumer Guide to Post-Secondary Education" provides general information on all in-state (New Mexico) schools; copies are available at high schools and post-secondary schools. Another vital source of information is special senior programs such as Senior Days at colleges or College Day programs where college representatives recruit potential students. Ask all the questions necessary for you to feel comfortable with your choice.

Selecting a Campus

How do you select a campus best suited to your career interests and personality? Factors to consider in this selection are as follows:
Degree program availability; majors offered
Academic level of competitiveness
Location: Is the school near or far from home?
Do you like the setting (urban or rural) and climate?
Atmosphere: Does the atmosphere of the school and community suit your personality and lifestyle?
Coed or women's college
Religious orientation
Campus organizations and activities
Public or private school

Visit the Campus

Many of these factors can only be assessed by making a personal visit to the campus. Visit while school is in session, stay overnight, include your parents. Investigate school surroundings and atmosphere, libraries and research facilities, departments of interest, student life, classes, and extracurricular activities. You might contact the placement office for names and employment data of former students in your field of interest. Most schools will arrange for you to visit the campus, have an interview with an admissions officer, and get a guided tour of the campus. The interviewer may ask about your scholastic standing, courses, and extracurricular activities. Interviews are generally not required for state-supported schools except in special circumstances. They are often necessary for application to the smaller private schools, though you might not have the interview at the school (an alumni representative in your locality can conduct the interview).

While colleges offer a wide variety of majors, not all colleges and universities offer the same type of major. For example, in New Mexico, one university offers the only architecture degree in the state. Schools also differ as to the level of degree program offered. Astronomy at one school may be an undergraduate program while it is a graduate program at another school.

The degree of academic competitiveness is all-important. College work should be challenging, but it should not completely overwhelm you. With the aid of parents, teachers, and counselors, you should make an honest self-evaluation: How ambitious are you? How independent are you? What are your work habits like?

Location and Size

School location can be an important factor, both in terms of proximity to home and proximity to extracurricular activities. In addition to getting an education, you can use your college years are a time for growing up and becoming independent; if you do go to school close to home and finances permit, you may prefer not to live at home. Consider living in a college dormitory.

Some people prefer the sense of community and togetherness among faculty, students, and administration that is characteristic of a small college, and the sense of being known and of making an individual impression. Others prefer the more varied atmosphere at a large university, where you develop your own community. If you are friendly and outgoing, you can make friends regardless of the campus size. Large lecture courses are rare in small colleges and can be the norm in large universities, especially in lower-level courses. However, in the case of large lecture courses, study groups of about 25 students are held as often as once a week. Many students assume that they will receive more help in a small school because the student-faculty ratio is often smaller. Nevertheless, regardless of the size of the school, you will only receive as much help as you seek. The advantage of a large university is the much greater variety of courses within a given program.

A women's college can give you a perspective through which to look at women and their accomplishments; it can give you the time and opportunity to grow, to change, and to begin to know yourself. Yet, with half of the human race absent except on weekends, it can become a very artificial environment.

Public schools are all coed and are tax supported. Because of this tax support, tuition levels are set by state government, and expenses are lower than at private schools. Entrance requirements are less stringent, and competition for a place in the freshman class is not so keen.

Cost may be a deciding factor. See the article Paying for Your Education for a discussion of how to finance your education.

The liberal arts structure can leave room for you to explore different career paths and change the goal that seemed so clear in your freshman year. A student can arrive as a premed student and end up attending graduate school in music and art, or vice versa. A school with a very specialized curriculum, such as an engineering school, does not allow you to "change horses in midstream" so easily.

In selecting several schools to which you apply, be prepared to compromise; no single school will fit your needs and desires in every respect. Keep in mind that the school that is best for your next-door neighbor or your brother may not be best for you. In any case, check that the schools to which you apply are accredited and that they offer the program that fits your interests.


Applying to Colleges: A Timetable

Once you decide on several schools, submit applications. Do not make the mistake of assuming that listing the colleges on a Pell Grant application represents application to those schools. (Pell Grants, which were previously known as Basic Educational Opportunity Grants, provide aid to economically disadvantaged students.) Each school has its own application form. The application fees are generally not refundable, so only apply if you are sure of your choice. Apply to several schools if you are interested only in those that are not state-supported; if you only apply to one of these and you are not accepted, you will be left out in the cold.

Junior Year
Examine educational opportunities; investigate admission policies.
Discuss plans with parents and guidance counselors.
Register and take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) if colleges you are considering require the SAT, and take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
Consider whom to ask for recommendations (teachers, employers).
Visit college campuses.
Register for the SAT and Achievement Tests or the ACT, depending on college entrance or placement requirements.

Senior Year

July, August, September
Obtain catalogs, applications, financial aid information. (State-supported schools do not supply catalogs.)
Have parents prepare Parents' Confidential Statement if required.

October, November
Mail completed applications.
Determine tests required and take them.
Maintain good grades.
Request that your high school send official transcripts.
Ask teachers and employers to write recommendations.

Make sure all applications are sent before Christmas if colleges do not have another deadline.
Check that transcripts are sent before Christmas, or earlier if the colleges require otherwise.
Financial aid forms for state-supported (New Mexico) schools are available.

Tentative acceptance is sent by some schools to outstanding candidates who have completed all application requirements.

February, March
Have high school send official transcripts that include grades for first semester and a list of second-semester courses.
Check that all necessary tests have been taken and that applications are complete and all recommendations are sent.
Take any required tests.

April, May, June
Keep track of acceptances, rejections, and financial aid offers.
Many colleges notify applicants by mid-April.
Application to state-supported schools is often still possible up to one month before the fall semester begins.
Reply promptly to colleges accepting you, notifying them of your decision.


Alternatives to a Four-Year College

The Two-Year College

If cost is an important factor, you might consider attending a two-year junior college and then transferring to a four-year college. The cost is low and these are basically good schools. Plan your two-year program carefully; it will save you grief later. Do the following:

Know the requirements of the four-year college you eventually plan to attend and its transfer policies; obtain a copy of the catalog.
Take general liberal arts classes to meet program entry requirements: English, history, philosophy, psychology, and sociology; such courses are easier to transfer. If you take specialized courses in math, science, business administration, or other subjects, you may find that they are not accepted by the four-year school of your choice.
Plan your program carefully with a counselor at the two-year school. Let her know your ultimate goal and the four-year school you plan to attend.

The Technical-Vocational School

The most important question to ask in deciding if you should attend a technical-vocational school or a college is whether you will meet your goals. Many students assume that if they start electronics in a technical-vocational school, it will be easy to move into electrical engineering in college. These are two different areas and, in general, technical-vocational credits are not transferable to colleges. Another common error is taking secretarial training as a means of entering business administration. Again, these are two different areas. It is important to know what it is you want to do. If you attend a technical school you may use up your federal financial aid (Pell Grant) and you may not receive more for a college education. Do not misunderstand the value of state- or city-supported technical-vocational schools: they offer excellent programs if they meet your career objectives.

If you decide to attend a technical-vocational school, follow the same procedure in selecting the school as in selecting a college. Consult with teachers, counselors, family, and friends. Study catalogs carefully. Contact employers who have hired graduates of the school and contact former graduates; find out if they are satisfied with the education the school provides. Investigate the school's reputation: contact the Better Business Bureau, the state Department of Public Instruction, or an accrediting agency. Find out what type of postgraduate job placement the school provides.

How a School Evaluates You cap and diploma

You evaluate a school, but the school also evaluates you based on the following:

Academic record (grades, course work)
Entrance examination scores
Class rank
Extracurricular activities
Communication skills
Not all of these factors are taken into account by all schools. For example, state-supported schools do not consider admission quotas, extracurricular activities, or entrance examination scores when selecting candidates for admission.

Most colleges have certain standards that must be met. One of the first things you should do is to make yourself familiar with these requirements for colleges in general and for the particular colleges you are considering. Schools with a greater degree of academic competitiveness will require higher test scores and higher grade point averages. Most out-of-state schools require the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). State-supported schools in New Mexico usually require at least a C grade point average, high school graduation or a GED certificate, and the ACT, an aptitude test used for placement and advisement purposes and administered by the American College Testing Service. At some state schools, students not meeting minimum entrance requirements are admitted into provisional programs.


After College

Four basic educational options are available after college:

  1. A master's degree program, Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), frequently takes one to two years beyond the bachelor level. At some universities, these degrees are awarded after completion of a certain amount of course work; elsewhere, a thesis may be required.
  2. A doctoral degree program (Ph.D.) generally takes from two to seven years beyond the master's, or longer, depending on the field of specialty, the dissertation topic, and the student's rate of progress. A Ph.D. is awarded upon completion of a dissertation and an oral examination on the subject of the dissertation, conducted by professors and other experts in the field. The dissertation is a paper describing original, independent research done by the student on some subspecialty in the field. Much work, experimental or theoretical, is needed before the dissertation is actually written. A dissertation advisor assists in choosing a topic and gives suggestions on how the student might proceed. Before beginning research, the student takes a "qualifying exam" that tests for a knowledge of the fundamentals of the field; this test can be written, oral, or a combination of both.
  3. A law degree (Juris Doctor or J.D.) takes three years beyond college. Before a law graduate is licensed to practice as a lawyer, she must pass a written test, given twice a year in New Mexico, on state and federal law (the "bar exam") Those wishing to teach usually get further legal education, attaining an L.L.M. (Master of Laws) or L.L.D. (Doctor of Laws) degree.
  4. A medical degree requires four years beyond college. The student must pass exams covering medical subjects, given during the second and third years, to become licensed. A few states, including New Mexico, require postgraduate work to maintain your license. After medical school, the graduate often does an internship and residency to become certified in a specialty; this can take four years or more.
Admissions Information

Admission to a master's or Ph.D. program requires college graduation. Most departments require the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), which tests verbal and mathematical aptitude as well as specialized knowledge in your chosen field.

Graduation from college is required for law or medical school admission. A law school (LSAT) or medical school (MCAT) admissions test is also required.


In the sciences, aid is usually given, without the requirement of proving need, in the form of a scholarship or a teaching or research assistantship.

Such aid pays the cost of the education and also provides a monthly living stipend. In the nonsciences competition for the few forms of outright assistance is very keen; most aid is in the form of a loan. In law and medical school the education is usually paid for through part-time jobs and loans. Some of these jobs may provide valuable experience in the chosen field. The National Institutes of Health gives scholarship assistance to medical students; in return, students spend their residency at a public health facility. A small town or the military may provide aid in return for a promise from the future doctor or lawyer to practice there.

Patricia Luna (1984) 
Program Coordinator, Office of School Relations 
The University of New Mexico 
Albuquerque, NM
Nancy Martin 
Computer Scientist & Professor (1984) 
Wang Institute of Graduate Studies 
Tyngboro, MA